A new pilot project is bringing affordable warmth to over 450 people living in rural communities in the Highlands. Through the Rural Affordable Warmth project, environmental charity Changeworks and local Citizens Advice Bureaux are working together to support householders in fuel poverty to maximise their income and keep their homes warm. 

The project sees Changeworks’ Affordable Warmth Advisors and Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) Income Maximisation Advisors joining forces to provide a support package to help householders better manage their finances, build life-skills and increase their confidence to live in affordably warm homes. 

As a result of this innovative partnership model, advisors gain a better understanding of clients’ needs and can co-ordinate services to tackle all four causes of fuel poverty. These are low income, poor energy efficiency, high fuel costs and the way people use their heating systems and live within their home. 

It also allows CAB advisors to identify clients who may be vulnerable and at risk of fuel poverty to access additional support to reduce fuel costs. 

High fuel prices, high energy usage and low incomes give the Highlands one of the highest fuel poverty rates in the UK, affecting 52% of people and 72% of older people (Scottish House Condition Survey, 2016). 

In addition, the use of solid fuel systems, oil and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) tank supplies in rural areas often mean people cannot access the same level of support from some of the larger electricity and gas suppliers as urban communities. The services offered through the partnership are therefore filling a gap in support for rural communities. 

Anna Scott is a Changeworks Affordable Warmth Advisor who has seen first-hand how people in need in rural areas can find it particularly difficult to heat their homes affordably: 

"Many houses in the Highlands are not connected to mains gas which means people have to heat their homes with electric heating systems. Not only are these hard to control, they can be much more expensive to run. These issues, coupled with colder temperatures and higher charges for fuel, mean we are meeting many people who are struggling to heat their homes affordably.

 

"Working in partnership with the CAB has helped us to connect with people who can benefit from our support so that we can help look at ways to reduce heating costs and make their homes warmer."

One such householder is Mrs M, who received help to check her energy tariffs, switch suppliers, improve energy efficiency and correct errors on her bills – saving her a fantastic total of £540 on her electricity bills. 

Alasdair Christie, General Manager of Inverness Badenoch and Strathspey Citizens Advice Bureaux, says: 

"This is a welcome opportunity to work together to provide co-ordinated benefit entitlement advice and energy advice. Clients are already telling us that they feel more in control of their energy usage and that thanks to the CAB advisor, they are financially better off. Overall, the success of Rural Affordable Warmth so far clearly demonstrates the power of partnership working to improve lives.” 

The pilot is initially running in Badenoch and Strathspey, Inverness and Inverness-shire, and Ross and Cromarty, with funding from SSE and Scottish Power. 

For more information about Rural Affordable Warmth, please email Kirsten Cook, Changeworks’ Affordable Warmth Team Manager, or call 0131 555 4010.